Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Treatment

Advanced, precise treatment based on your needs.

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Oncologist discusses treatment options for oral, head and neck cancer

There are many treatment choices for oral, head and neck cancers. Which may work best for you will depend on a number of factors. These include the cancer type, the tumor size and where it is, and the stage of the cancer. Factors also include your age, overall health, and what side effects you’ll find acceptable.

You may have questions and concerns about your treatment options. You may also want to know how you’ll feel and function after treatment, and if you’ll have to change your normal activities.

Your oncologist, or cancer specialist, is the best person to answer your questions. They can tell you what your treatment choices are, how well they’re expected to work, and what the risks and side effects are. Your healthcare provider may advise a specific treatment. Or you may be offered more than one, and asked to decide which one you’d like to use. It can be hard to make this decision. It's important to take the time you need to make the best decision.

Goals of treatment for head and neck cancer

Treatment may control or cure the cancer. It can also improve your quality of life by helping to control the symptoms of the disease. The goal of head and neck cancer treatment is to do one or more of these things:

  • Remove the primary (main) cancer tumor or other tumors
  • Kill cancer cells or keep them from growing or spreading
  • Keep the cancer from coming back or delay its return
  • Ease symptoms of the cancer, such as pain or pressure in nearby tissues

Each type of treatment has a different goal. Talk to your doctor about treatment goals so you know what to expect.

Oral, head and neck cancer treatment options

There are several types of treatment for oral, head and neck cancer, and many people undergo a combination of treatments.

  • Surgery for oral, head and neck cancers has the goal of removing the tumor. Nearby lymph nodes may also be removed. Our team uses a variety of techniques to help restore or preserve one’s ability to speak and eat. 
    • Our surgeons are fellowship-trained in both medicine and dentistry, making them uniquely qualified to provide many options for your care and help you return to your normal appearance and abilities.
    • Legacy offers traditional and minimally invasive robot-assisted surgery to remove select cancers of the mouth and throat. Robot-assisted surgery can result in less pain, shorter recovery times and better function of the mouth and throat.
    • Plastic or reconstructive surgery may be required. When needed, we use computer planning for reconstruction. We also offer dental reconstruction.
  • Radiation uses X-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation is sometimes the only treatment for oral, head and neck cancer and is often used together with chemotherapy. 
    • Legacy has the latest technology in radiation therapy, including intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT). IMRT reduces treatment time and better protects your healthy organs from high-dose radiation while we treat your head and neck with more accuracy. 
    • Legacy Cancer Institute also has an experienced Gamma Knife radiosurgery team for the treatment of certain head and neck cancers located at  the base of the skull. Learn more about Gamma Knife.
  • Chemotherapy uses drugs that kill cancer cells throughout the body. For oral, head and neck cancer, chemotherapy may be used before or after surgery and often with radiation.  Chemotherapy is also used for those with advanced cancers not treatable by radiation or surgery. 

  • Immunotherapy uses medications that stimulate the patient’s immune system to attack cancer.  Currently, it is approved for use for those with very advanced cancers that have not responded completely to surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Talk to your doctor about these and other options for treating oral, head and neck cancers. There may also be a clinical trial (research study) for which you are eligible. Researchers are discovering new therapies for treating cancer all the time, giving doctors new resources for your care. 

Experts in treating oral, head and neck cancer

Legacy Cancer Institute, located in Portland, OR, ranks among the nation’s best cancer programs. Our team features some of the region’s most recognized specialists who work together to diagnose and develop a personalized treatment plan for you. Find the right provider and treatment close to home.

Legacy Cancer Institute is accredited as an integrated network cancer program by the American College of surgeons Commission on Cancer (CoC). Learn more about our quality cancer care.

Working together for you

Our cancer experts work together with a common goal: delivering the right care for you.

A range of specialists collaborate regularly in meetings called tumor boards to discuss the best plan for your care. Your treatment plan is made just for you, depending on your general health, your age, your particular cancer and its growth.

Legacy Health collaborates with the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute to advance cancer care in our region. By working together, you benefit from the strength of both leaders in cancer care. As an integrated community cancer program for adults, we make sure that you have access to the latest treatments, technology and research available.

What happens next

Many cancer treatments can cause challenging side effects. Your cancer team is dedicated to helping you manage these side effects in the best ways possible. Comfort care can treat symptoms to help improve your quality of life; this is also called palliative care.

You may meet with a speech and language therapist who can help you with recovery from your cancer treatment.

To see how well your treatment is working, some of the tests used to diagnose and stage your cancer may be repeated. Your doctor uses these tests to decide whether to stop, change or continue treatment based on the results. These tests can also determine if cancer has returned. Whenever possible, we work to stop the growth of cancer and reduce the chance of cancer coming back.  

More support

You are not alone. Legacy offers support throughout your cancer journey, as well as care for your emotional, social and spiritual needs.